With the first two picks of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Wild selected two members of the U.S. National Developmental Team based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The first, of course, was the power forward Alex Tuch, selected 18th overall. Perhaps the more intriguing pick, however, was that of defensemen Louis ("Louie") Belpedio, from Skokie, Ill.
Selected 80th overall, Belpedio is described as a two-way defensemen who plays sound defense but is comfortable jumping up with the forwards. He is also known as a strong character type player, serving as the USA U-18 captain in his last year. He is committed to play college hockey for Miami of Ohio this season. This is a prospect we may not see professionally for a while, but he has a big upside and may surprise us all when he finally does turn pro.
Interesting tidbit- before playing for the U.S. Developmental Team, Belpedio played at Culver Military Academy, Ryan Suter's alma mater. Here's a quick look at his stats thus far:
|Hometown||Skokie, IL, USA|
From Future Considerations Draft Guide:
"Belpedio is a very strong two-way player, with excellent offensive skills and awareness, as well as the ability to work as a shutdown player in his own end. Belpedio is a superb skater with tremendous footwork and fluidity in his stride. He is powerful and balanced on his edges, and is superb when it comes to stopping and starting to quickly edge his way around pressure or to work his way in from the point with the puck. He is intelligent and cerebral at both ends of the ice, and is able to make strong plays with and without the puck."
From Enrico Blasi, his future coach at Miami:
"There’s not anything he doesn’t do well. He’s got a pretty good offensive knack, although he probably isn’t the most offensive defenseman out there. He’s not overly physical, but he can play that way when he wants to. He’s pretty responsible defensively, but not afraid to jump in the play. Bottom line is he’s a great person, a great kid, who will fit our culture perfectly."
Wild Assistant GM Brent Flahr, after the 2014 Draft:
"He's one of those guys when you ask all of his teammates which player, which defenseman you'd take with you, everybody pretty much said him. He's a little shorter in stature, but he's well put together and physically strong. He's going to a good program and we're excited about him."
Belpedio may not be tall, but he can still play physical and use his body. He is very good with the puck and has shown great ability in getting pucks up the ice and driving the play. He also has a strong right hand shot that is used effectively on the power play. From all accounts, he is a very smart player with great hockey sense.
Perhaps the most exciting part of Belpedio's game is how much it has improved over the last few seasons. He played his best hockey in the last few months of 2014 to jump up the prospect ratings. If he keeps improving at Miami, there's no telling how good a player he could be.
The most common knock on Belpedio is his size. At only 5'10'' and 194 pounds, he's never going to be the biggest player on the ice. Size was most likely the reason he fell to the 3rd round in the draft. Louie will have to adjust to a faster and rougher game as he turns pro, which may take a few years in college and in the minors.
In interviews, Belpedio has made it clear he wants to stay in college for a considerate amount of time. He chose Miami over other schools because of their business school. If things go well, expect him to stay at Miami at least two years, but maybe even three or four. When looking at his trajectory, it's easy to compare him to Jared Spurgeon. A small but smart and effective defensemen who can score. In three or four years, he may well indeed be Spurgeon 2.0, and that is an exciting prospect.
For those of you who want to see Belpedio in action this year, he will be playing in Duluth against UMD October 31st and November 1st, and in St. Cloud against SCSU January 9th and 10th. He could also possibly play in the World Junior Hockey Championships at the end of December.